Since my last post about my Only War character Lok Aubray, I’ve plunged even deeper into the Warhammer 40k universe. I’ve bought some models, visited several Warhammer stores, and purchased the first book in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. But for a universe that really is pretty progressive in its lore (except the fact that there are no female primarchs, but that at least has an explanation: y chromosomes and all that), the fans are generally less open. In all the searching, exploring, and immersing I’ve done to get into this hobby, I’ve realized that there’s a severe lack of female fans.
All sorts of things can explain why women don’t get into Warhammer. The world is designed around traditionally masculine ideals, and it did start out as a tabletop war-game, a genre of gaming especially barring to female crowds. It’s also not as mainstream as Dungeons and Dragons, and so exposure happens amongst friends, and friends who play Warhammer 40k tend to be predominantly male because there’s a lack of female participation, creating a cycle. Because of this, I don’t think that the fans really help integrate a female fan group. When I was visiting Warhammer and Games Workshop stores with my SO, in every store, a manager or attendant would ask us where we were from. When he answered, my SO made a point of distinguishing himself from me by saying that he lived in Maryland and I was just visiting. Every time someone asked, I waited for the moment when the conversation would naturally create a pause where I would say my name and share where I was from also, but it never happened. As soon as they heard where my SO was from, the conversation moved on to the hobby, the universe, and specifically what my SO was looking for, what army he was building, etc.
I really don’t think these men purposely ignored me because I’m a woman, but I do think they saw me in the store with my SO and made some quick assumptions: 1) I’d probably been dragged along, 2) I definitely wasn’t interested in building my own army or purchasing anything myself, and 3) if I was going to purchase something, it’d be something my SO had picked out for himself as a gift. To say nothing about how damaging this was to their sales (I didn’t get up the gusto, and wasn’t loud enough, to finally ask about purchasing something until the last store we went to), it was also pretty isolating. I wanted to talk about the universe with someone who also loved the hobby enough to run a store, but it was nearly impossible because they were all talking with my SO.
Another experience I had that pointed to a lack of women happened when I was purchasing Gaunt’s Ghosts. A friend of mine recommended it to me because I love Imperial Guardsmen, and it’s about Imperial Guardsmen. However, he later mentioned that he saw a review that said that there are literally no women in the entire book, not even in flashbacks, conversations, or internal monologues. He was really baffled by this because the author is usually very aware and inclusive in other books, but that he guessed the author was justing writing for his audience. Which, frankly, really kinda sucks. What kind of audience must you be writing for that the mention of one woman, of one female pronoun, would ruin the book for them? It seems so counter intuitive because my friend is that intended audience, and he said that it spoiled the immersive experience because it was just so unrealistic. So obviously, there’s some kind of stereotype, based in reality long gone or still current, preventing, even outright excluding, women from getting into the hobby.
I explained all this to my SO, lamenting about how it really stinks that I love the 40k universe, think it’s amazing, fun, grimdark fantasy/sci-fi, but at the same time have to struggle with the fact that I will need to fight my way into the greater fanbase because I’m a woman. Even worse is that I will constantly have to accept the fact that women are underrepresented at best and mocked and hated at worst by fan and external work (such as novels, art, etc.). My SO, baffled, bewildered, and as discouraged by the situation as I was, asked what I would do because he had no idea.
I said that there would be no point in just giving up the hobby, especially since I loved it, but instead I had to just keep doing it. By representing women in a hobby where they are underrepresented, I can begin to change perspectives. I like to think I’ve already done that within my own friend group. When I first joined our group’s DnD campaign, the DM told me that he only ever played with girls who were dating someone else at the table, and only then because he had to. Now I’ve folded another woman into our Only War campaign, DMed by the same friend, and I think I really have changed his mind about female role-players. So maybe I can continue to shape people’s opinions and redefine what it means to be a woman by immersing myself further in the game.
All this to say that Warhammer 40k, although severely lacking in the female fan department, is not beyond hope, and actually pretty awesome. As I wrote above, the universe is really pretty progressive; homosexuality has always been permissable, women have leadership roles all over the universe, and it comments heavily on zealous religion and its vices. I think that 40k is a cool, fantastic game, and so I’m not going to throw my hands up and refuse to participate because it’s not feminist enough for me. That would be counterproductive and just serve to increase the gap between women and the rest of the fanbase.
So let me extend an invitation. If you want to reach out and learn more about the universe, man or woman, please contact me! My knowledge about the lore is slowly increasing, and I would love to chat about it. Together, we can begin to expand the fanbase and share an awesome world with others.